Review – Call of Duty Black Ops III

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Never again. That’s what I was saying to myself after the terrible Modern Warfare 3 : never buy again a Call of Duty at launch. But given the positive memories I have from Black Ops I & II and that it’s crucial year given the first Playstation partnership, circumstances make me shed 70€ at this end of year.

Even though the multiplayer was decent at that time, campaign was the main interest in the past Black Ops games. I therefore naturally throw myself into solo play in this third episode.

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The story of Call of Duty Black Ops III unfolds on a world plagued by natural disasters and civil insurrection. An interesting setting but isn’t being developed correctly afterwards. In the somewhat dull first missions, you face several paramilitary groups and chase a traitor from your unit. Nothing very original or exciting so far.

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The campaign becomes increasingly enjoyable as it allows you to customize your loadout like you would do in competitive multiplayer. It’s actually the same frame, so it will feel familiar immediately. The other good news is that the weapons are unlocked way faster than in competitive multiplayer, which allowed me to try this little one, the SVG-100, very peculiar bolt-action sniper rifle with its little air vents that cool it down after firing. You are also able to choose an upgrade your DNI, cybernetics equipment. Because in Black Ops III, very much like Deus Ex Human Revolution, you are half-machine.

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Call of Duy Black Ops III is into futuristic warfare like never a Call of Duty has been before. Besides human soldiers, the campaign will throw you against various robots and mechanical weapons. Their patterns of attack are fairly different from each other, which will surprise the player almost every time. Treyarch does deliver some quality action scenes despite other having little interest (the aircraft sequence for example). It’s even more enjoyable that the campaign-related trophies are unlocked in Hardened difficulty or higher, which makes you give your best and it’s very rewarding. The overcome that, you have the choice between 3 skill trees of cybernetics : hacking, brute force and jamming. This allows you to use the technology according to your own style, or try them all. Jamming can make robots implode or disturb guards, but the must remains hacking enemy mechas to turn them against your opponents!

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The campaign is even better with friends in the brand new cooperation mode, huge innovation of Call of Duty Black Ops III. Even though finding a public match turns out to be a headache at times, it’s quite easy to begin any mission with some buddies. The game system emphasizes interdependence and mutual aid because if one player die, the mission is a failure! The cyborgs are more solid and fiercer than ever, for more heated combat. Cooperating with 3 other players really transforms the campaign’s experience : as a sniper, I found myself covering the others from afar, which I can’t do alone. The only drawback is that you can’t filter difficulty, making it necessary to get in and out until you find a suitable game.

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Despite de very bland start, Black Ops III’s story takes a very different turn compared to other Call of Duty games. The chase of the traitor quickly becomes a desperate struggle against some computer virus affecting soldiers. This is not about patriotic war and stuff, and y the way, your own administration turn out to be shady characters. This bold setting is welcome, even though the narrative is too imprecise to connect the various ideas in it. There is still a somewhat deep design work in Call of Duty Black Ops III, including some psychedelic delirium in the 2nd half and interesting concepts like the Forzen Forest, which personally recalled deep-rooted memories. In its chaos, the story eventually makes relevant sense and develops a vision of what it wants to communicate to the player. The music was quite discreet, except here again the theme of the Frozen Forest.

Graphically speaking, this last entry indeed looks a lot better than the previous PS4 games. The modeling has been refined quite dramatically (it’s obvious when you play Advance Warfare just after), backgrounds and lightning effects are far more impressive, the outlines feel sharper.

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Then we come to competitive multiplayer, and that’s where Call of Duty Black Ops III fails, horribly. The idea of specialists is good, but there is a snag : they aren’t extremely specialized in whichever way! Just choosing one special move/power between two isn’t much. I did expect passive skills to make a difference. I picked the Outrider, basically the recon class with some kind of modern Ninja look.

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The bow is as cool as you would expect, but tricky to use and not that much of an advantage in battle. You can modify the range your your shot with the analog button to adapt your current situation, and in any case it makes a small explosion at impact (like the arbalet in Black Ops 1). Note that as it is a Specialist weapon, you can have it only during a certain timeframe. The problem is that you lose it immediately when you are killed, which is not the best choice given how fast the action is. The Outrider’s second tool is a sonar which allows you see nearby enemies through walls, but its reach is far from being good. In the end, the Outrider is a recon soldier without any relevant advantage (not even like the sniper perks of the Modern Warfare series), and actually nothing more than a skin of the standard soldier (when you look at other players, she is never used as a sniper).

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Let’s stress again the fantastic general design of Call of Duty Black Ops III, futuristic weapons being crafted in the smallest details. Just look at how precise the modeling of those tiny parts is! It really is a damn fine interface for modern weaponry lovers. The user interface is also splendid : the Specialist here seems to be lurking in what appears to be some sci-fi city like Coruscant.

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But the dream collapses after just a few hours : the maps are ridiculously tiny and full of obstruction. It is a MIRACLE to have even 30m of range! In those conditions, scoring with a sniper rifle is absolutely impossible. It’s unbelievable : the maps in Modern Warfare 2 were 3 times as large, and that was in a PREVIOUS generation. Look, there are CORRIDORS IN THE FOREST! Multiplayer battle are still 6 vs 6, while Battlefield 4 have been delivering 64 players maps for 2 years now. This translating a very clear intention from the developers to keep the gameplay as poor as possible so that worthless noobs can have fun. And the magnifying of the scopes is pitiful, x2 at best… Seriously, even the PSO1 on my airsoft gives more precise aim!

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As always since Modern Warfare 3, the episode of infamy, assault rifles and light machine guns are a lot to precise from any distance for us snipers to win any encounter. Not only that, but run speed has been increased and double jump causes the enemies’ movements to be unpredictable. It’s like duck hunt but here the ducks are hunting you too! Every game is a unbearable confusion of mediocrity and random game design. Team Deathmatch looks like a Free-for-all and Search & Destroy is not even an option given the awful weapon balance. Like my character says when she loses : “I didn’t sign up for this shit”.

I can hardly be satisfied of Call of Duty Black Ops III given its main feature, competitive multiplayer, is broken like never it has been in the series. Campaign was a cool experience, especially in coop, but are 10h of gameplay worth 70€ nowdays? It’s another debate. The illusion of the Frozen Forest echoes another, the ghost of the Call of Duty of the Golden Age when every gameplay style could join the party and have fun. I recommend to keep Advanced Warfare which is a lot more enjoyable in multiplayer, or invest in Battlefield 4 for true sniper gameplay.

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My favorites games of 2012 (GoTY 2012)

Rules reminder : I’m picking from the games I’ve played in 2012, even if they were released in 2011 or if they’re yet to be announced in the West.

Best action game

Liberation Maiden (3DS)

I’ve always wanted to experience the action scenes from Evangelion in video game. With Liberation Maiden, no need to search further. This shoot’em up is a nearly exact transcript of the legendary anime. True, not the same scenario, not the same characters, a rather short story, but the spirit of Evangelion is here : the ferocious aliens, the awesome sound, the non-stop action. All those priceless things you can get for only 8 euros.

Runner-up : Senran Kagura Burst (3DS)

Best shooter

Call of Duty – Black Ops II (PS3)

Although Call of Duty did poorly with Modern Warfare 3, Treyarch made the wise choices to turn the situation over. An innovating campaign and a reborn quality multiplayer make Black Ops II the king this year.

Runner-up : Call of Duty – Black Ops Declassified (PSVita)

Best fighting game

Kasumi Ayane

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3)

Dead or Alive 5 deals a powerful blow to a competition mostly asleep at the wheel. At last effort is rewarded and improvisation useless. The gameplay is complex, even too complex, but the competition is sane and the noobs have been driven away. Graphically outsanting, with high value and a flurry of adorable characters, DOA5 takes the crown, and for a long time.

Runner-up : none

Best strategy game

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Like every time, it’s hard to resist to Fire Emblem once you have it whithin your reach. The clever gameplay is further enhanced by the support system and the unit management has some amazing surprises. CG scenes are beautiful and the art direction the best to date.

Runner-up : none

Best puzzle game

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

True, PlvsAA won’t melt your brain like past episodes did. But its breathtaking story and lovable characters make up for the lesser difficulty settings.

Runner-up : If I were in a sealed room with a girl I would… (3DS)

Best RPG

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Totori made history imho, and only logical that its sequel would take the title if it lives up to it. Actually, Atelier Meruru does even better in music, gameplay, management, battles, character design… Seldom did I feel such self-fulfillment with one game.

Runner-up : Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Best Music

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Let’s get this straight : it’s gonna be hard for any game to compete here as long as Hatsune Miku is in the place. Not when brilliant composers like the vocaloid god Wowaka delivers such goodness as Unhappy Refrain.

Runner-up : Project Diva Extend (PSP)

Best game no one bought

たっち,しょー Love Application (PS3)

Love Application literally crashed in Japanese charts. The audience for dating sim has never been that high so it might have been OK. Anyway, the amount value and fun crammed is this game is more than worth the few thousands yens.

Runner-up : Hyperdimension Neptune Victory

Best game you might never play

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (DS)

The title I chose last year in this category, Final Fantasy Type-0, still hasn’t made it west. Released in Japan last year, Ace Attorney Investigations 2 probably won’t be luckier and might well end up being the only title in the series to skip the west too. A real shame when you think it’s the most brilliant Ace Attorney so far.

Runner-up : Shining Blade (PSP)

Most disappointing

SoulCalibur V (PS3)

An abysmal campaign and a dismal multiplayer. That’s all I could think of this 5th iteration of a series had enjoyed so much. Everything that made the glory of the past ones, including characters and gameplay, has been reshuffled for the worst as armies of noobs increasingly took the power.

Runner-up : Ciel no Sourge (PSVita)

Most innovating

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Mastering gravity. That’s what Gravity Daze is about. This game achieve the outstanding performance of having a unique, exhilarating and yet simple gameplay. Add to that an art direction that is one of the best this year, and you have the ultimate must-have on PSVita.

Runner-up : The Unfinished Swann (PS3)

Best graphics

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

A small step for the PS3, but a giant leap for the Tales of series. Tales of Graces F, which wasn’t exactly ugly, is merely a sketch of what awaits you in Tales of Xillia. Never had the anime style been so detailed, seldom could you enjoy such a flurry of colors and light.

Runner-up : Gravity Daze (PSVita)

 Game of the year

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Can the Atelier series win for the second year in a row? YES! You do have one of the finest management-strategy-RPG ever. Characters, battles, music, side-quests, everything is as good as it can get. With games like these, there are no such things as eating or sleeping : Atelier Meruru nurtures your soul to delight.

 Project Diva f (PSVita)

 Tales of Xillia (PS3)

 Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Sniping in Black Ops II – Map analysis

Maps are a great strength of Black ops II multiplayer. I’ve been playing for quite a while now, here’s my sniper impressions on all of them, in no particular order with homemade screenshots.

PLAZA

Pretty difficult to master even in the long term, Plaza is a shopping mall composed with two elevated terraced structures and a plaza above some stairs in-between. The terraces have some excellent cover but there are not so many kill opportunities. On the plaza on the other hand, you’ll never be short of targets, but you will be sitting ducks for the players coming from all directions.

CARRIER

Chinese carrier whose deck is in shambles. It is a rather flat map with quite a bit of obstacles, but numerous spot are slightly elevated and give a good view of the comings and goings of your opponents. The clear side of the deck often hosts sniper duels. Actually quite a dynamic map.

STANDOFF

A small village in Eastern Europe. Le layout is classic but extremely efficient with lots of 1-stored houses, whose windows face each-other and give a clear view of the street under. It makes it possible to attack from the windows or from the streets to surprise your rivals.

SLUMS

Useless map. This South American town has narrow and short streets that will lead all your sniping attempts to certain death. You can always take a stand at either ends of the central plaza, but your flanks are wide open. If you really want to go, try SVU-AS + ACOG or Ballista + Iron sights.

OVERFLOW

Not really big map. This environment of Pakistani slums has three big windows facing each other, but also overused path on its sides from which rushers often come. That said, there usually are plenty of inhabitants at the windows. The fallen bus part and the boat bow are useful spots as well. SVU-AS + variable zoom is an asset.

EXPRESS

Long bullet train station. Awesome map in which you can see the other end from afar. The railway is within range and the control box adds pressure in mid-range engagement. Caution if you’re on the footbridge : you’re in permanently danger to get flanked.

DRONE

Futuristic military base lost in a jungle. Drone has insanely long firing lines. Actually, you may well get sniped if you’re at either end of the map. Once you’ve won your duel, the poor guys going through the center or waiting by th window are yours. The sides are somewhat busy at time, but you can quickscope or support behind the mobile front line.

YEMEN

Very complex coastal town. You’ll have to learn the layout to perform, because there are many buildings and as many windows. Being mobile is key as you’ll have to create yourself opportunities. Staying at one place won’t get you anywhere here, you’ll fall asleep! Once you know where is where, you will be able to use the long avenues and seaside paths to your advantage.

RAID

Luxury property cut in three lines. It depends on how others players will play : if people gather in the court at the center, it’s gonna be boring. But if people use the sides, there’ll be plenty of action for you.

AFTERMATH

Post-Apocalyptic scenery on a very large surface. Snipers will prefer the side of the bus, the latter being a dream-like hideout to shoot opponents coming from both sides. Near respawn locations, there are two stored-buildings that allow you to organize defense when overwhelmed. 

CARGO

Very nice map with an open central area. 3 locations are facing each other, which prevents camping. Therefore, you’ll have to be quick on the trigger to win here. High points make support fire possible on the sides.

 

TURBINE

THE ultimate sniping map! Very like Afghan in MW2, average distance is quite long and snipers rule. Bunkers allow you to stay covered and hidden until the moment to strike comes. From other locations you can see half of the map, but the lack of cover makes it risky. Up to you to play it safe or make a gamble to climb the leaderboards. 

Sniping in Black Ops II – Gun analysis

As I was telling you a few days ago, Black Ops II is way more sniper-friendly than many other Call of Duty games. Thanks to League Play, I was able to try all of them. Impressions.

SVU-AS

SVU-AS

This Russian semi-automatic sniper rifle boasts rapid fire rate, light weight, large magazine and low recoil (actually hardly any). That makes it more efficient than its past counterparts like the Dragunov, even though it has the same multiplyers. Variable zoom is a must on it as you can efficiently cover mid and long range, and sometimes keep up with rushers when moving.

DSR-50

DSR-50

This German-made bolt-action sniper 100% one-shot kills above the waist, making it the most powerful sniper rifle in Black Ops II. However, it is extremely heavy and scope-in time is long. Therefore, it is better to use it for long-range engagement only. Ballistics CPU is strongly recommended as it enables you to stabilize your aim faster. It is currently the most widely used sniper rifle in Black Ops II.

Ballista

Ballista

Second bolt-action rifle of the game, this recent American-designed sniper rifle is less powerful than its German counterpart for it one-shot kills chest up. However it is lighter and the aim smoother, making it easier to get headshots. It can equip iron sights for close-range engagement, but it’s almost useless given the superiority of automatic weapons.

XPR 50

XPR 50

This huge futuristic-looking rifle is semi-automatic and can one-shot kill chest up, but its high recoil limits the efficiency of rapid successive shots. It is somewhat similar to the Barrett M82 in less powerful although the aim felt steadier. It looks like a compromise of all the other sniper rifles with no real specialization of its own. FMJs are a good pick to make up for the lack in stopping power.

Medal of Honor Warfighter vs Call of Duty Black Ops II – comparative review

For the 3rd year now, Activsion and EA ask the patronage of millions of FPS fans with clear intention to get the biggest part of the cake. So, which one deserves your money in 2012? /!\ this review is based on the PS3 version of both games only /!\

Solo campaign

Coefficient : 1

Black Ops II

The campaign in Medal of Honor Warfighter (MoHW) was far from bad. Well paced, lots of suspense, varied gameplay, etc. The sequences in vehicles were particularity thrilling as you had to pursue, advance discretely or flee in hostile environment. But when MoH has cars, Call of Duty has horses! On-horse sniping has been a quite funny experience (but it’s really hard) and the Afghan chapter in a whole was really something. The depiction of the near-future in Black Ops II (BO2) is also impressive with all the strange weapons and mechas. BO2 have definitely more charisma than the ones in MoH : Mason and Woods are making history. The scenario in BO2 is disappointing, the historical context is very good, but the threat by a rich megalomaniac has been seen a million times. MoH is slightly better in that department. But where BO2 nails it is in the surprising RTS missions, in which you order units from above like a general, but you can also jump into the fight any time to save the day.

Graphics

Coefficient : 3

Black Ops II

MoHW benefits from the Frostbite 2 engine, but at its fullest only during single player. Multiplayer looks like it is running on Frostbite 0.5 as poor modeling and ugly textures hurt the BF3-conditioned eye. Equally fine in single player, BO2 maintains a satisfying quality in multiplayer, though far from BF3 standards. Weapons look really nice, but maps suffer from aliasing.

Sound

Coefficient : 2

Black Ops II

Firing sounds, explosions and voices are correct either side (English voices are available in the French version for both, which is cool), but the OST of BO2 was more memorable, espacially the background music that makes it especially immersive.

Multiplayer

Coefficient : 5

Black Ops II

Adding to the poor graphics I was telling you about, the multiplayer in MoHW has other issues. The maps are extremely dark, and scoping in makes them even darker… There were frequent bugs in which you respawn in the netheruniverse, and weapon balance feels strange at best. On the contrary, BO2 is a big step forward since for the series which had seen a sharp drop in quality for two years. Respawn has been fixed, weapon balance and level design (see under) welcome every playstyle, and there are plenty of game modes. Also, the menu layout in MoHW is heavy and uncomfortable, unlike BO2 fresh Pick 10 and its renewed Elite.

Sniper gameplay

Coefficient : 9999

Black Ops II

MoHW is a HUGE letdown. Maps are FLAT. There is something like one window in the entire multiplayer and obstacles to block your firing line everywhere. Bolt-actions doesn’t even one-shot kill, which is unaceptable after the complaints on BF3 forums. BO2 makes it easier for snipers than MW3 or BO1, getting close its great elder MW2 (see under for details).

Winner : Black Ops II

No problem for Call of Duty this year as Medal of Honor sinks in every aspect. Still, it’s not a victory by forfeit, because Treyarch revived the CoD franchise to new heights, especially in single player. Multiplayer fixes many of the flaws that had crippled the franchise lately, and sniping feels great again. This well deserves an early sniper montage with all four guns!

Snipers strike back in Black Ops 2

For two years now, virtual snipers had been feeling down. Black Ops had changed the rules and made clear it wanted to end the quickscopers’ domination, even if it meant edging out all snipers. The situation is no better one year later with a terrible MW3 and a nicer BF3, but in which it takes half a day to snipe someone.

2012 begins in the worst possible way with Medal of Honor Warfighter, the multiplayer of which is beyond failure. My hopes therefore are in Treyarch’s hands, the ones responsible for the casual turn of CoD in 2010. My anguish turned out to be groundless as Black Ops 2 fixes part of the problem.

The first thing that strikes me is the quality of the maps, far better designed than in MW3 or BO1. There are many high spots and clear firing lines. Sniping spots face each other to prevent abusive camping. Snipers are unfortunately very likely to be backstabbed, because maps are tiny and game speed still significantly higher than in MW2.

The rifles themselves are very effective. Again, no quickscoping (ADS takes a long time), but hitmarkers remain scarce (expect for the Ballista) and the power of the DSR50 or the SVU-AS is overwhelming. Sway is no longer a problem : this little device onto the scope called the ballistics CPU makes WONDERS as it nearly nullifies it. FMJs goes trough thick concrete like it were butter, making all attempt of cover useless. The accuracy and stopping power of auto weapons have been nerfed at long range, which lets us about a second to aim.

This is bad news for MW3 maniacs. Used to run across narrow maps where danger never comes from farer than 5 meters, they lament the loss of stellar ratios and their being unable to do double-digit killstreaks. They can hardly complain, because they keep 3 key advantages : supernatural running speed, unrivaled CQC mastery and their ultimate weapon, aim assist. It is optional but set on by default has the game aim for those noobs, who just have to pull the trigger and collects points. It represents 1 to 2 seconds in duels, which is enormous and penalize old-timers.

To conclude, I would say that I partially felt what I had felt in MW2, but without the comfort of it. The fun is undermined by Treyarch keeping certain options to favor a mainstream audience. The developer is sitting on the fence, and future updates will show whether snipers are really back in the loop again.